Almond milk is often promoted as an extremely healthy drink and a great alternative to milk, particularly in smoothies. For that matter, almond milk is the most popular plant-based milk in the United States and the sales show no sign of slowing down.
But, what are the actual advantages of almond milk? Certainly, almonds themselves are incredibly healthy and a key source of many nutrients.
Nevertheless, almond milk isn’t the same thing.
Instead, almond milk doesn’t end up containing many nutrients from almonds and the almonds themselves get strained out. So, if you’re wanting to get the healthy fats, protein and nutritional benefits from almonds, you need to focus on the nuts themselves.
Even with this, almond milk can still be beneficial for health, particularly for some people. So, in this post, I’m going to highlight the key advantages of almond milk and who they apply to.
What is Almond Milk?
Despite the name, almond milk isn’t milk at all. Instead, it is a plant-based drink created from almonds, water and typically a range of additives.
The first advantage is simply that the product is completely dairy free.
Now, as a general rule, dairy is healthy and it is an important addition to the diet. For example, protein from dairy may be especially relevant in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes (1). Likewise, yogurt is much more important for health than most people realize (2).
But, dairy isn’t always a good option for everybody.
For one thing, anybody on a vegan diet is going to be avoiding dairy products, including milk. Some people are also unable to tolerate milk, so products like almond milk are desirable (3).
Likewise, an alternative to milk can be appealing if you’re trying to lose weight or keep your blood sugar stable.
Now, there are other types of plant-based milk, including soy and rice milk. However, almond milk continues to be very popular and does let you avoid the controversy and concern that surrounds soy.
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The Differences Between Almond and Regular Milk
One of the most significant areas to consider with almond and regular milk is nutritional differences.
Now, the nutritional information varies considerably from one brand to the next, so some products will be better than others. However, one rough comparison is the table below. The information is given per cup of milk (4,5):
So, almond milk tends to be considerably lower in calories, while also having much less sugar and protein. This would be slightly different if compared to full fat milk, which typically has less sugar and more fat.
But, either way, almond milk is low in calories, which is extremely relevant for weight loss. This is also why many people turn to almond milk as a base for meal replacement shakes (like those from Shakeology and IdealShape).
The differences aren’t all positive however.
In particular, almond milk is relatively low in protein and protein is essential for health. For that matter, many people need more protein in their diet. Now, there are many other sources of protein and you may be getting that anyway if you’re using protein shakes. Nevertheless, the difference is important to consider.
Beyond this, there are also nutritional variations.
In contrast, almond milk itself is mostly filtered water. As a result, there are relatively few nutrients present naturally.
However, this difference in nutrients isn't always evident from the ingredients label. This is because almond milk tends to be fortified. For example, some brands are marketed as being a good source of vitamin A, vitamin D and calcium (7). This claim is true but those nutrients are the result of fortification.
Indeed, almond milk naturally contains very few nutrients at all. This is a concern and means that you're basically getting nutrients like you would with a vitamin supplement.
Doing so is better than not getting the nutrients at all. Still, it isn't accurate to claim that almond milk is high in nutrients.
Now, in fairness, milk itself is fortified as well. Typically that fortification focused on vitamin D but some other nutrients may be added in as well.
Despite this, milk does naturally contain more nutrients than almond milk, including vitamin B12, which is relatively hard to get from plant-based sources.
The end result is that you trade some nutrients for others, as both almond milk and regular milk offer different vitamins and minerals.
The nutrient differences also strongly come down to brand, especially as brands vary in what they fortify their product with.
You could also end up with more nutrients if you make the almond milk yourself. Nevertheless, the very nature of almond milk means that the nutrient composition will always be on the low side.
So, what does this all mean?
Nutritionally, almond milk and regular milk both have benefits. Of the two, regular milk is certainly more nutrient-dense. Still, almond milk does have some appealing aspects as well.
On a side note, the lack of nutrients does mean that almond milk is not a viable option for infants, as it does not contain all the compounds they need. Relying on almond milk instead of regular milk can lead to growth problems and nutritional deficiencies (11).
Almond milk doesn't have the same nutritional advantages of regular milk or almonds but it doesn't have much sugar or many calories either
Advantages of Almond Milk
In some ways, almond milk ends up looking like a poor choice. After all, you’re not getting most of the key nutrients from milk or from almonds.
Yet, almond milk is frequently recommended for health (12).
One key reason is the calories. Almond milk provides you with the same functionality as regular milk but at a fraction of the calories.
For that matter, many people enjoy the taste of almond milk, particularly in smoothies.
So, almond milk can offer you more options, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
Almond milk is also low in sugar.
This can be particularly important for people who need to keep their blood sugar levels stable and means that almond milk won’t tend to spike blood sugar levels.
Nevertheless, that pattern is only true for non-sweetened almond milk – as some products do have added sugar.
At the same time, almond milk is mostly just filtered water. This means that it can be a great way to get more water. After all, water itself is critical for health and it’s easy to drink too little (13,14,15).
Likewise, almond milk is a good beverage alternative to many other options. So, you’re much better off with almond milk than with sugary soda or even fruit juice.
The nutritional profile of almond milk makes it great for weight loss, for increasing hydration and for avoiding blood sugar spikes
Choosing Almond Milk
One of the main advantages of almond milk is the low-calorie nature. But, the calorie count does differ between brands.
For example, many types of almond milk are flavored. As a result, you’re often getting extra sugar along with a range of other additives. These extra ingredients may negate many of the advantages of almond milk in the first place.
In most cases, this means that you may get health advantages by switching to almond milk but only if you focus on the non-flavored version.
Regardless, it’s important to keep a close eye on the ingredients list to make sure you know precisely what you’re going to be drinking.
You can also make almond milk yourself and the process is surprisingly easy.
This is a good way to decrease the additives in your milk and to make sure you know precisely what you’re drinking.
All in all, almond milk does have benefits, especially if you’re focusing on the non-sweetened kind and using it to replace unhealthy alternatives. Nevertheless, it is low in protein and some other nutrients, so it may not be suitable for all situations.
For many people, a good answer may be to replace some of their milk with almond milk but still have normal milk regularly.
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